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Psalm 2: God's Anointed, the True and Forever King
A Warning to the Nations, and a Promise to God's People
It is my stated intention to issue this newsletter “mostly” on Fridays. Didn’t happen this week. The result: a Saturday edition. Enjoy.
Not everyone is into God, favorable toward persons God places in positions of authority, or kindly disposed toward God’s people as a collective.
If you are a person of faith and you find yourself opposed because of your association with God and the things of God, don’t be surprised. This dynamic is ancient. We often forget it remains in play. But the opening lines of Psalm 2 remind us:
Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”
Despite this resistance, the psalmist claims that it is the Lord who is the unrivaled, everlasting, and unassailable regent of all creation. “The One enthroned in heaven laughs;” the psalmist records, “the Lord scoffs at them.” Furthermore, the Lord has appointed an earthly representative, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
Remember Psalm 1? There, we find an invitation to live as the blessed person. The individual is called to mediate on God’s commands and walk with the Lord in the way of righteousness. Psalm 2 widens the lens. The focus is on the community as they stand in relationship to God and God’s anointed, as well as in relationship to the nations surrounding them, those “different” from the community of faith. The Psalter addresses both the individual and the community, as does the Bible as a whole. Why is it important to pair the two? Commentator James Mays notes:
The second psalm is paired with the first as a double introduction to the Psalter. Psalm 1 addresses the question of individual life faced with the problem of wickedness in society; its answer for faith is the instruction of the Lord as the guide to the fulfilled life. Psalm 2 addresses the question of the community of faith faced with the problems of a history made by nations contending for power; its word to faith is the announcement of the messiah into whose power God will deliver the nations.
The community longs for the messiah. The psalmist promises the messiah will come. God will be like a father to the messiah. The messiah will be like a son to the father. The son will rule over the nations. Like iron, he will be firm, strong, immovable, swift. Psalm 2:7-9 says:
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
The ancient Israelite community heard these words as an assurance that God’s power would protect the king and the nation, and even advance and expand the nation’s sovereign sphere. Yet, the experiences of Israel would bring this understanding into question, leading to a messianic reading of this passage. Readers looked ahead to a future king, a “messiah” or “anointed one” who would usher in the fullness of the Lord’s reign.
Who could this messiah be?
The early disciples of Jesus believed they knew the answer. In Acts 4:23-31, Peter and John cite Psalm 2:1-2 as support that Jesus was the Lord’s “anointed.”
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.’
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
When it was initially composed, Psalm 2 was received as a warning against those standing opposed to the Lord, Israel’s divinely-appointed ruler (God’s representative), and the nation. Psalm 2:10-12 contains a concluding caution: “Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
And in a sense, that warning still holds. But for Christ-followers, the Messiah we proclaim is highly regarded and reverently feared not because of the wrath he threatens, but because of the wrath he received in order to deliver people of all nations unto himself. In his cross, Jesus atoned for our sin and addressed our rebellion. He appealed to our opposition. He demonstrated his love. Jesus, vindicated in his resurrection as God’s anointed, now reigns as the rightful king, as the redeemer of all creation, all that was broken, all that stood in opposition to God. In Christ, we stand secure. We have been delivered from sin and death, and we have been promised an eternal place in God’s forever kingdom, servants of God’s true, foever king. If Christ is for us, who can be against us? The final words of Psalm 2:12 are thus realized and fulfilled: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Os Guinness has been writing for fifty years. I have read many of his books. His latest book is Signals of Transcendence: Listening to the Promptings of Life. Guinness tells stories of individuals throughout history who underwent experiences that raised questions about grand meaning, the divine, and our reason for existence, and who responded to those experiences by seeking answers. Those he chronicles found their answers in Christianity.
This book is not a case for Christianity, though you could draw that conclusion. It is an invitation for the reader to examine their own experiences, to pay attention to the signals in their lives, and to launch out on a search for their source. Guinness is a Christian. He believes that human experiences of transcendence point us to the divine and are intended to lead us to an encounter with the Trinity. He suggests that our age suppresses our perception of these signals, or at least lacks a framework or language for understanding them. He also suggests that our response to these signals must be personal; we must take responsibility for our actions in light of experiences that point us toward spiritual reality and its possibilities, including personal relationship with the living God.
Signals is a follow up to Guinness’s The Great Quest, which invites the reader to live an examined life. These two books pair well together.
I finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger and its coda, Stella Maris. These novels are odd, beautifully written, philosophical, wide-ranging, and dissonant. McCarthy tells the story of a brother and sister, Robert and Alicia Western, whose father helped develop the atomic bomb. This book explores themes of mental illness, the makeup of reality, the nature of God, human perception, family, taboo, and truth. Robert Western, when we first meet him, is a deep sea diver confronted with a mysterious plane at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Alicia Western is a beautiful, brilliant mathematician suffering from schizophrenia. The Passenger focuses on the life of Robert Western, while Stella Maris relays conversations between Alicia Western and her therapist while voluntary residing in a mental institution. In the first book, we learn about Alicia through Robert’s recollections, and in the second we discover more about Alicia as she speaks about her inner life.
McCarthy pushes open doors that lead into hallways he then leaves unexplored, and plot elements are thus left unresolved, which is in keeping with the spirit of the central characters, who in their own way are adrift, vaporous, other-worldly, as though they have come to us from another dimension. I don’t think these books are for everyone. But I enjoyed reading them.
I can see the end of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.
Sights and Sounds
I set a goal for our family this year to host a movie night once a month. In January, we watched Holes. In February we watched Turbo (2013). We had a nice evening watching Turbo, and I was surprised by how many of voices were recognizable big names.
Last week I watched Midnight in the Switchgrass (2021), starring Emile Hirsch, Megan Fox, and Bruce Willis. Set in Pensacola, Florida, we follow law enforcement officer Byron (Hirsch) and FBI Agent Rebecca (Fox) as they hunt down a serial killer named Peter (Lukas Haas), a truck driver who is killing girls he picks up along Florida highways. This is a thriller. Haas evokes disgust in his portrayal of Peter, a violent predator living a double life, who sees his absolution in his maintaining of a stable family. The viewer is meant to be drawn to Hirsch and Fox as sympathetic heroes who hunt down our killer while also witnessing their struggles with their own deep pain. But their characters are too thin, and some of the cuts and pacing decisions make the film feel disjointed. Bruce Willis is there because I think he was available. He doesn’t add much to the story. I do not recommend this movie.
On the blog: I shared a funny comment card I found at church, passed along a zinger about those who live lukewarm in faith, remarked on an insight from John Boys’ Exposition of Psalm 2, and joked about Jesus’ endorsement of the whey.
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P.S. - Spotted in downtown Fort Worth.